Andrew Le Sueur: Reaching Middle England at Chelsea

People accidentally stumbling across this blog must think that we’re an intensive lot. But it’s not all “rules of the game” with no “game”. We all have hinterlands. Part of mine is gardening, even though anyone living in my London terraced house before 1985 would have called my plot a “back yard” not a “patio”. So, yesterday it was my annual pilgrimage to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show; it poured with rain but I’ve been inspired.

Non-gardeners can be forgiven for thinking that Chelsea is just about plants. That’s a mistake: it’s as much about propaganda and selling ideas and causes. The climate change agenda is everywhere. Not-for-profit organisations such as the BBC and Cancer Research sponsor some of the large show gardens. One that caught my eye was the Magistrate’s Garden, designed for The Magistrates’ Association “celebrating the 650th anniversary of the magistracy in England and Wales”.

Middle Englanders straining the see the garden through the crowds had glossy leaflets thrust into their hands, explaining the garden and the Association. Kate Gould, the garden’s designer, explains: “The garden is imagined, as a courthouse would be, in a central and modern town location, backing onto the court rooms. It has been designed for use by the magistrates themselves, to work, reflect or relax in during the working day. The two facing benches refer to the magistrates’ bench and the court’s crest is set into the wooden panels above the seat”.

A timeline in the leaflet intermingles horticultural and legal landmarks. Did you know that the lawnmower was invented in the same year (1830) as Parliament renewed licensing powers for Justices of the Peace? Confidence in the timeline is dented a bit by the entry “1989 Human Rights Act”, though it’s interesting to speculate what a Conservative-inspired incorporation of the ECHR might have looked like. May be we’ll find out here? The final entry on the timeline helps explain the motivation for the garden: “2011 Economic difficulties result in closure of one quarter of magistrates courts”.

Hazel Genn’s work on public understanding of judges reveals just how little public understanding there is of judges and courts and that almost everything that people think they know comes via the news media and TV drama. So well done the Magistrates’ Association for the piece of outreach work to Middle England, attached to a lovely garden. Anything that helps cut through the tabloid fog to put information directly into people’s hands must be a good thing.

Next year at Chelsea? I’d like to see the Judges’ Council explaining the super-injunctions saga though Hibiscus rosa-sinensis spilling over some tall, neatly trimmed box hedges.